Saturday night we went to the Georges' for a dinner. They had two house guests staying over night; the gentleman had come to town to give a talk at the Georges’ church, and his wife was along for the fun. I can’t call them elderly, even though they were seniors plus ten or twenty years - they were energetic & engaged, not a jot of dodderitis between them. I’d say “spry,” but that always makes me think of Granny Clampett running around. Their age wouldn’t be relevant at all, were it not for their stories. And they had stories.

Joe had some tales from the war, and like just about every other WW2 vet I’ve heard, the tales hadn’t grown from year to year; they hadn’t been burnished or edited or draped with purple bunting. The stories were small, simple, and had great heft. This sort of man doesn’t brag. (They ought to rename that base Ft. Reticentt.) In a way you wish they’d act more like Boomers, and give you a yarn - but when they tell a story, they often sit there with their hands folded in their laps, looking down as they recollect, occasionally raising a hand to signal some great calamity.

So imagine you’re a young man from Iowa, now in Europe, now at war. You’re escorting convoys, hanging in the sky over the water, watching the broken black line of ships snake along below. It’s an awe-inspiring sight on any morning, but this morning is different. Vesuvius erupted. You can see the lava stream down the mountain. You’re not going to forget that.

I always feel awed and small in the presence of these guys; we owe them everything. But we owe Joe a bit more. His full name is Major Joe Gomer, and he was one of the Tuskegee Airmen.

If you don’t know who they are, you whippersnapper, shame on you. The Tuskegee Airmen were an all-Black fighter squadron who fought Germans in the sky and segregation on the ground. Major Gomer’s daughter put up a webpage here, if you want the full story. I’d love to share some of the tales Maj. Gomer and his delightful wife passed along, but they didn’t talk with the expectation that the conversation would end up on a web site, so I’ll leave you to imagine.

An American hero without peer.

My wife’s elderly aunt died last week; just found out today. Longtime Bleat readers might recall occasional tales about visiting the nursing home - that’s where Aunt Lee spent her last years. She lived long enough to want to live no longer; she fell asleep and the spring wound down. I have a poster on my wall of the view from the beauty parlor where she worked in the 50s and 60s. It was a little shop in the Physicians and Surgeon’s building. Four buildings, four corners: the P & S, the elegant Young Quinlan, the old drugstore and the big white pain palace called the Medical Arts building. The odd obelisk of the Foshay Tower rose in the distance. I have a poster of the Foshay seen between the Medical Arts and Quinlan buildings.

Around the time Aunt Lee went into the nursing home, construction began on a blunt stupid structure as tall as it is banal; it completely blocks the sight of the Foshay tower from the Nicollet Mall.

Sometimes you can remember people by remembering what they saw. When people die they take so much with them, so many details already lost in the fog of senescence. I’m not just talking about family stories, but commonplace facts of daily life - the brand name of an obscure chewing gum, the sound a parking meter made when you inserted your coins, the typeface on the advertising circular the grocer always tucked in the bag, a voice on the local radio station, the way the Gateway Park looked at night from the top of the Nicollet Hotel. The past vanishes one synapse at a time; some parts of the past are locked in a hundred thousand minds, unexamined for decades, and when they’re finally gone you’ve no idea what they were in the first place. It’ll drive you mad; it’ll make you want to note everything and scan all your receipts and take pictures of fast-food menus. History shouldn’t be a highlight reel.

Here’s what she saw. God speed, Lee.

Finally: today is the 40th birthday of Southdale, the Mother of All Malls. The first all-enclosed suburban shopping mall with an interior court was built here in the Twin Cities. I’ve whipped up a small tribute in this week’s Flotsam Cove.

My first trip to the cities was to see Southdale. It was as much a Wonder of the World then as the Mall of America is today; the idea that Fargo could have one of its own someday would have struck my parents as nonsense. (And pointless, too - didn’t we have a downtown for shopping?) I went to Southdale today to snap a few pictures, and stood on the same spot my dad stood to shoot the sidewalk cafe below. Nowadays it’s just another regional mall in an indistinguishable suburb, surrounded by the usual suspects: Pizza Uno, Restoration Hardware, CompUSA. Lube shops, fast food, Mattress Giant. It’s Anywhere America - you have to check the license plates in the car ahead of you to know where you are. But there was nothing there when Southdale went in - a big drive-in down France Avenue, a gas station at the freeway interchange. Nothing much else. Farmland and trees.

At the Dayton’s store my parents bought me a stuffed dog with a music box embedded in the kapok; it played “Some Enchanted Evening.” My mom wound it up every night and it plinked its way though the melody until I fell asleep. Now it’s in a drawer in my old bedroom in Fargo; now I’m here.

Across the street and up the field from Southdale, they’d later build a hospital. That’s where my daughter was born. Back then the birthing room was just a spot in the sky, waiting for walls.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere in particular. Other than this: Swap stories and save gum wrappers. That’s what you’re hear for. Glean what you can from the day; pass it along. Don’t worry that it’s too trivial or meaningless.

If I worried about that, I’d never write another bleat.
. http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/1002/100202.html#100702
.. Drizzly night - a dank coda to a gray day. It’s been cloudy for a week now, and I miss the sun. I miss the warm autumns we’ve had these last few years. When it’s cold in early October you head inside, and you feel like a kid who’s forced to go take a nap when he can still hear the other kids outside playing.

Although I could take a nap right now. If I had my druthers -

What the hell are druthers, now that I mention it? Sounds like some sort of archaic term for some quasi-related male cohort. In ancient times, a man who was about to be married would join with his druthers in the sacrifice of a boar, and they would feast on mead and thyroid glands. The Drutherhood, as it was known, remains to this day in the form of the groomsmen, although the glands have been replaced by breaded chicken fingers. People are always talking about their druthers in a wishful sense; no one ever says “look at this new Audi! Man, do I have druthers, or what?”

Anyway. If I had my way, I’d take a nap now so I could stay up until three doing the things that need to be done, but that’s not possible. (Especially since it’s 10:20 PM right now.) It’s been a day of duty. We went to the grocery store this morning, and like many lazy dads I always pass off a trip to the lobster tank as a visit to the aquarium. Two lobsters were squared off in a death-match, waving their rubber-band cinched claws in mindless fury. “They dancing,” Gnat said, and I agreed that they were. She pointed to a heap of insensate lobsters piled in a corner. “They seeping. Night night losters.” Then we got joos and yugurt and cheees and meet and chocate puwing and coffee (she says that one clear enough: daddy’s girl) and fosty pos, the frozen dessert for Jasper. (Or Jabber, as he is known now.) I asked what I should make for supper, and was informed I should make hangigers. This slays me. It’s her term for hamburgers: hangigers. From the German city, Hangig. Ich ben eine Hangiger!

Home. Nap. Up. Out. Target. Bought a batch of crap, including a Hello Kitty Umbrella she had to have. Then it was school, as she calls her once-a-week playgroup. Every Monday she plays with the kids, and I join a group of parents - all mothers - to discuss our Issues. Which reminds me; it’ll be my turn to bring treats soon. I’d better figure out what to get.

In one generation - one! It all flipped: wife at work, husband remembering to make the brownies. Amazing.

Home. Mexican dinner. News: the sniper is still at large. It reminds me of the serial slayer at work in the early 90s, when I lived in DC; he was known as the Shotgun Slayer, because he would roll up, point a shotgun out the window, and kaboom. How this happened in a city where shotguns were banned we never did figure out. But they caught him on the same day as the Waco compound burned - I remember that because I was sitting in my living room in Adams Morgan, watching a split-screen news report. On the left, the Slayer’s car being searched; on the right, Koresh’ private apocalypse. There are times when the world seems absolutely mad, and that was one of them.

Wife returned. Nap. I was asleep within seconds of hitting the pillow. Sweet, sweet Lethe. Up 24 minutes later; coffee on the steps, then walk the dog while listening to the President’s speech. He’s been working on that nucalur word; it shows. What was notable about the speech was the even temper - no shouting, no heavy-breathing protestations that Saddam was “outrageous! Outrageous!” Just the facts, ma’am.

Later I was passing the TV and saw Jerry Brown debating O’Reilly. Brown’s default facial posture always seems to be android-calm, as if his internal systems are in Sleep mode, waiting for the cursor to move. O’Reilly was quoting a “60 Minutes” story about PLO - Iraq links; Brown responded that since the Saudis fund radical mosques, shouldn’t we invade them?

Thank you! I thought; there’s my column.

“The proper response to this is a big wide grin: capital idea, old chap; why not, indeed? Let’s go! Glad you’re on board. We can liberate those American-born women our craven State department refuses to help; we can take the oil fields, set the pumps on “gush” and flood the world with sweet, cheap crude. We can defund the radical mosques, disband the religious police, and build swingsets in the parks they use for public hand-choppings. As an added bonus, the West will occupy the most holy sites of Islam, so we can photograph, fingerprint, and possibly detain anyone who comes for a pilgrimage. Invade Saudi Arabia? Dude! You are so hard core!”

I’m going to finish that one now. And those ARE my druthers.
. http://www.lileks.com/bleats/archive/02/1002/100202.html#100802
. This doesn’t qualify as an official Screed, because I’m too torqued, and I’ve nothing to flense. Those disinclined to share my Insightful Geopolitical Rants can go here - it’s a blog that appears to be written by Tony Soprano. (Although the last time I checked, he was ranting about Iraq too.)


I listened to three Congresspersons give speeches against the resolution today, and I passed my own personal resolution: I will not listen to these people again, because they make me want to yank my hair out in big bloody clumps. Let’s take an excerpt from Sen. Wellstone:

“In considering a war against Iraq, the administration has yet to tell the American people how it is preparing for attacks on our bases by unmanned drones. As we know, Saddam possesses planes that can deliver chemical and biological weapons, and in the unlikely event that one of his planes penetrates our perimeters, are we prepared to deal with the threat? I’d feel much more comfortable if the Administration brought the country up to speed on the countermeasures we have in place, so people need not fear that heavy casualties from such an attack would be the norm.

“I would also request of the Administration some information about the contributions of the nations who support us in this coalition. We know that assistance or cooperation has been pledged by Turkey, Britain, Qatar, Kuwait, Canada and Australia, to name a few; what, exactly, will they be doing? Will the brunt of the fighting be left to American men and women - and if not, have steps been made to improve coordination between American and European forces?”

Hah! Hah. Just kidding. Of course he said nothing of the sort. Nor did Babbling Bobby, the Byrdman of Alcaspaz, or Rep. Barbara Lee. Ten gazillion questions that I’d like to hear posed and answered, and they babble on about our “go-it-alone” policy. How our “unprovoked” and “unilateral” attack would shatter the thick armor of international law and embolden every strong nation to pounce on its neighbor like a lion on a hobbled gazelle, how the Arab world would rise up en masse and pour into Al-Qaeda recruitment centers demanding the right to be blown up from planes flying 40,000 feet overhead, how our Valued Arab Allies would turn against us once we’d kicked their worst enemy off the planet, how it would be difficult to penetrate terrorist cells because they’d really be wary of accepting American members now, and how we would lose the high regard extended to us by the French and the Germans and every other country that wants to slap a Denver boot on our loathsome Juggernaut. Death, doom, despair, defeat - all because the United States is considering making a preemptive strike without UN approval.

Would these people have supported the Vietnam war if the US had a pocketful of UN resolutions saying “go get ‘em, lads” and we had a multinational coalition spewing defoliants over the jungle canopy? Would they have cast a solemn YEA in favor of funding the Contras if the UN had passed a dozen resolutions condemning the Sandinistas, and sanctioned a multilateral force made up of armies from El Salvador and Guatemala? Sweet smoking jumped-up Judas on a Vespa, GIVE IT A REST! If the US cannot act without UN approval, then pass a resolution that gives command of the Armed Forces to Kofi Annan and start whistling “Hail to the Chiefs” when the Syrian delegation take their seats.

The more these people whine about the need for UN blessing, the more I wonder whether they wouldn’t vote yes to a UN-levied tax on American paychecks - why, our “go-it-alone” tax policy must be enflaming the world, to say nothing of our “go-it-alone” highway system. And of our “go-it-alone” Apollo program in the 60s, well, the less said the better. Did we get a permission slip to leave earth and plant a unilateral boot on the Moon’s virgin soil? I don’t remember.

If they want to dissent, make it count. Ask hard questions and try to pretend you’re interested in the answer. Make a case I haven’t heard before. Show me some evidence that you’re actually seeing this in a context that goes back to 1991 - Rep. Lee talked about how we have to give containment and sanctions a chance, as if this strange and oddly bellicose nation of Iraq popped up last May, surprising everyone. Mustached tyrant with a yen for gas and enriched uranium? Didn’t see that one coming. Engage the concepts of deterrence in a way that tells me you have a faint, flickering comprehension of geopolitical realities, that you do not base your worldview on the notion that we should all stand on a hillside and sing about our shared desire to pour forty ounces of Coke on the curb in memory of our dear departed homey, Mul-T-Latral.

It’s not the “dissent” that annoys me. Really. I learn what I believe, and why I believe what I believe, when my beliefs engage the opposition. I am not goose-stepping behind Der Bush - if the President announced tomorrow that he was going to invade Indonesia, I would have more questions than a toddler at the circus. But what we are having today is not a debate. It doesn’t even rise to the level of a serious argument, at least not in the Congress. We’re seeing ideologically simplistic politicians reading speeches prepared by underlings who believe that passion equals wisdom, and asking questions is somehow an adequate substitution for making an intellectually coherent argument.

Let me make an admission. I had doubts about our last engagement in Europe. I thought it was a European problem, and that they should deal with it. I thought it was quite instructive that they could not and did not. I would not have had similar doubts about Rwanda, and if the US had gone in under UN resolutions to stop the slaughter I would have supported it - that seems to be the sort of thing the UN is supposed to be worried about.

In either case: if any of my local Senators had bitched and moaned that the US was giving in to One-World Government and insisted that the US never work in concert with allies or coalitions, I would have thought they were flaming sacks of bat crap. These were instances that required remedies, and if the task fell to us - for whatever reason - the greater good that came our action outweighed any silly paranoia about the UN, and whether our participation in a coalition would lead to detention camps in South Dakota guarded by blue-hatted Dutchmen. Coalitions are fine, if they attend to the danger at hand. If they do not, then the entire idea of a “coalition” can be tossed out the window without a moment’s thought. It’s nice to have allies. But it’s not necessary. If you believe that coalitions are always necessary, then the worst thing about the JFK assassination wasn’t the president’s death, but the possibility that Lee Harvey Oswald was acting alone.

The Senators insisting on a coalition above all else are the left’s equivalent of the nutlog right-wing UN conspiracy crowd. The only difference is that Wellstone starts to worry if he doesn’t hear the black helicopters.

Okay, I’m better now.

No. No, I’m not.

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